BA backs down over free flights for non-execs

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The Independent Online

British Airways was forced into an embarrassing U-turn yesterday by scrapping plans to guarantee free first-class air travel anywhere in the world for its chairman Martin Broughton and his fellow non-executive directors.

The plan, apparently devised with Mr Broughton's approval, would have enabled all BA non-executives and their spouses to book free first-class flights in advance irrespective of whether the seats could have been sold to fare-paying passengers.

Following the leaking of an email revealing details of the planned change in policy, BA announced that the proposal had been rejected by its executive management, led by chief executive Willie Walsh.

Under BA's current policy, board directors can make provisional bookings in first-class for business and personal travel. If, however, all the seats are taken by fare-paying passengers, they risk being bumped down to business class, economy or even off the aircraft.

The leaked email, sent to BA's company secretary Alan Buchanan from the department that deals with director's travel concesssions, said that "following discussions with Martin" the policy would change with immediate effect so that all travel by non-executives would be treated as if it were "on a commercial basis in premium cabins" - in other words, as if it had been paid for normally.

A BA spokesman rejected suggestions that the planned change in policy had arisen because of complications concerning a booking the chairman's wife, Jocelyn Broughton, had made for a flight home from South America. He said the proposal had been under discussion for some time before the issue arose over Mrs Broughton's flight.